05 December 2010

The Ultimate Bike Lane Snow Clearance Blogpost!

ADDENDUM: 18 Dec 2010. I made this little film and blogged about it. Adding it, rightly so, this post.

Copenhagen Snow Clearance
I spotted one of our lovely street sweepers/snow removers at work the other day. It really is the loveliest sound on the streets during winter. We've had about 45 cm of snow at time of writing but these working class heroes keep the bike lanes clear. The cities of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg salt before snow falls and, after the snow is on the ground, the bike lanes are cleared before the streets. During snowstorms I've seen these bike lane sweepers roll back and forth past my flat six times before any snowploughs cleared the street. I live on a busy crosstown artery. In the above photo it's a bus stop island getting an extra sweep. That's the bike lane to the right of the sweeper.

(As an aside, we have many of these bus stop islands in Copenhagen. If there is one present, disembarking passengers have to wait before crossing to the sidewalk. Bicycles have the right of way. If there is no island, bicycles have to stop for passengers.)
Copenhagen Snow Clearance 02
Then the sweeper came back on the other side of the street. Shoving the snow onto the street - and covering parked cars. The sidewalk and the bike lane are clear of snow.
Bike Lane Snowplough
I've blogged many of these snow clearance photos before, but here they all are in one place. The bike lane sweepers, because they run constantly during snowy weather, are only equipped with a heavy-duty brush. Snow is rarely left for long so a snowplough attachment isn't necessary. You often see people riding Keirin-like behind them.
Another Keirin ride. This was taken during a heavy snowstorm. When such weather is upon us, many other sweepers and - in the case of the photo above - snowploughs proper are enlisted to keep the bicycle infrastructure clear.
Snowstorm Ploughing
Like this one. Not a regular feature in Copenhagen, this tractor was drafted during a storm last year. Brush at the front and salt spreader at the back. This was taken at 22:15 one Saturday evening. If there is snow falling, it's getting cleared. At all hours.
Bike Lane Snowplough
I rode behind this one during a storm last year. But he was a bit slow, so I ended up overtaking him, leaving him to eat my flakes.

With the early snow this year there are, however, some issues with budgets for snow clearance all over Denmark. Last year was a nasty winter with regular snowstorms and many municipalities spent more than they snow clearance budget. Many have saved up in case this winter was the same and so far it is - it's started much earlier, though, so budget grumbling is heard across the land.
Bike Lane Maintenence
Here's another sweeper and salt spreader. No new snow on the infrastructure, but it was forecast, so they do an extra run to clear it and spread salt. Yes, salt is a pain in the ass. There has been talk of gravel but the Copenhagen sewers, they say, wouldn't be able to handle it. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of research going on into a replacement for salt.

Last winter a number of municipalities ran out of salt. A ship sailed from Sicily with salt for many Danish cities. Even the City of Copenhagen was running very low. So low that they issued a statement saying that the last salt reserves would only be used on the bicycle lanes and not the streets. Nice.
Follow the Salt
Another sweeper and salt spreader. Personally, as a bicycle user, I take the salt with... a grain of salt. It's a pain in the ass but if it helps me and the rest of the bicycle traffic rolling on cleared bicycle infrastructure, then I'll take it.
Bike Lane Snowplow in Höör Sweden
It's not just Copenhagen. This is a sweeper and, in this case, gravel spreader in the small town of Höör, Sweden. Population about 7,000. Keeping the bike infrastructure clear for the citizens.
The result? Clear channels on which the bicycle traffic can move. Prioritizing the bike lanes is, of course, a great and necessary way to encourage people to ride bicycles all through the year. On the other hand, it is also a practical necessity. If the bicycle lanes weren't cleared, a whole lot of people on the day after a snowstorm wouldn't ride. Tens of thousands. They would seek alternatives. Cars, perhaps, but mostly public transport. Imagine the complications of having tens of thousands of people suddenly show up at train stations and bus stops. A logistical nightmare. So keeping the bike lanes clear is an important factor in keeping Copenhagen moving.

(As an aside, note the plastic protectors in front of the trees. This is common all over Copenhagen in the winter. Protecting the trees from salt and grime and slush. Sometimes they're plastic, sometimes wicker fences.)
Poster Prototype 02
Here's a good result photo after a spot of snowfall last year. Sidewalk (at bottom) is cleared somewhat. Not entirely, but enough, by the super in our building. The bike lane is cleared to perfection. The streets have been ploughed. Repeat on the far side. Copenhagen is kept moving.

When the going really gets tough, The Slow Slinger is called in. Once the snow drifts get too big from all that pushing snow out of the way, this machine eats them up for breakfast, spitting the snow into dumptrucks.
The groovy snow sweepers serve other functions all through the year. They're designed for use on the bicycle infrastructure. Here is a shot of one sweeping up leaves in the autumn.

ADDENDUM: More shots
Winter Detour Snowplough Afternoon 2
Watch out where you park your car! The bicycles rule.
Snowplough Afternoon


Classic Copenhagen said...

"Eat my flakes", hahaha. I get to appreciate Copenhagen even more when I see this post. And yes salt is a pain in the ass, but no more so than for the trees. Not all of them have the protective shield, and the salt reaches them somehow anyway. But still, I love a clear lane. Oh, and remember to remove the salt stains from your boots with milk. This announcement was brought to you by Sandra.

Sticky said...

How wonderful! See, Vienna, it CAN be done. I am just a little envious, and wondering if I could possibly move to Copenhagen...
Here in Vienna the bike lanes are the last to be cleared, if at all and I have spent the last couple of days unhappily on the underground. :o(
I am thinking of getting studded winter tyres for my cross bike and was wondering if they are popular in Denmark? I need a way to get back on my bike, but my Schwalbe Hurricanes just don't cut the mustard! :o)

Kiwehtin said...

Here in (well, just outside) Montreal, we're still waiting for a significant amount of snow. (Though about a week ago we did get a day with freezing rain and ice all over).

Glad to see how Copenhagen is managing the snow – expecially with a 45 cm dump like we often get in our winters.

As for snow budgets–
Think how much less would need to be budgeted if cities didn't have to bother about clearing all the space (how much? 5, ten times more than for bikes?) reserved for cars to travel and park.

I have often wondered how much it would cost to install low powered heating cables along bike and pedestrian paths, compared to salt. They would only need to be turned on when there is enough ice or snow on the ground and the temperature is low enough to make the paths slippery. I wonder if anyone has ever studied this kind of thing?c

simonk said...

We get these great little machines in Darmstadt, Germany and often most of the cycle paths I use to get to work have been cleared before I leave at about 8:15

Mikael said...

studded tires? don't know anyone who has them here. certainly not regular citizens.

Anonymous said...

That's why they have such high taxes over there, because they spend so much money catering to minority special interests like bicyclists. In the US it would be even worse because only 1% or less of people ride bikes. Who would ride a bike when it's snowy out anyway, unless you couldn't afford to drive, which is probably the case in Denmark because taxes are so high and gas is $6 a gallon. I can't imagine being like 60 years old, with arthritis, and having to ride a bike in the snow to get anywhere. That would really suck. I'm glad I live in the US where I can afford to drive when I need to.

William said...

@Sticky, studded tyres are available, but to be honest, I've only ever seen them in one shop. I do know that some people buy them from Sweden and Germany. They're not unpopular, as such, I guess people just don't feel the need?

Chris said...

Thanks for this post Its really cool, we love to read interesting and alternative stories like this, very original
Thanks again,
chris x

shuichi said...

When I was a child there used to be much snow about 100cm in my home town. So snow remover wiped snow on the road. But the snow removers were more bigger than these of the photos and they never wiped sub roads for pedestrians and cyclists. So I had to push my bicycle to my school...Maybe the situations in suburbs are the same as the past situations. So you are lucky^^. (But now I live in a city and there are not much snow)

Simon said...

Hey anonymous, get back in your troll cave & have the courage to put your name behind your post if you're going to be controversial.


Anonymous said...


several years ago a Dutch engineering firm showed a road that was watercooled. In the summer asphalt was heated by the sun and transferred heat to water that ran through tubes in the asphalt. The warm water got stored underground and used in the winter to heat the road. That way the road would wear out less in the summer and reduced the need for salt in the winter. It was only a research project afaik.

Anonymous said...

First Anonymous:

Are not the stats in Copenhagen 36 percent cycle to work, next public transportation at 30 something percent and auto at 20 something. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycling_in_Copenhagen

so in Copenhagen the minority is the car driver, I guess lanes not used by buses or bikes should not be cleared then.

One has to point out that it is infrastructure that allows that level of modal share and that includes snow clearing.

Son of Shaft said...

More info on the heated road I mentioned before.

bani said...

If the bike paths are cleared but not the pavements, don't you have loads of pedestrians walking in them?

Dave Holladay said...

Mikael in the 2009 Winter videao at 25" in there is a fine sequence of a brush sweeper driving along and the white dusted path turns into a black strip behind it.

I did a small experiment with my front steps and garden path in the last snowfall in Glasgow - I swept it completely clear as soon as the snow stopped falling - within the day the surfacesx were almost completely dry and I never had any ice on them as the temperatures fell. I never needed to use any salt or grit either (a major problem as salt poisons vegetation, and water courses, and damages the concrete and tarmac that make up the road structure and grit blocks drains creating greater flooding when the snow thaws) We have small machines with brushes on that are used to sweep up rubbish - but these get parked and unused when it snows - should we be suggesting a better use of these resources to run about sweeping strips clear of snow as it falls?

PS can you include a clip like that 25" one to really show how effective sweeping up fresh fallen snow is - potentially saving a fortune in salt and the impacts oif its use (mining, transport and the poisoning effects